A trip to Liwa in the Empty Quarter (or Rub Al Khali) is a must for any off-roader during their time in the Middle East. It’s the biggest sand desert on the planet. The sheer scale of the scenery and the size of the dunes has to be seen to be believed. This epic route is more of an expedition than just a spot of camping, so go prepared for the experience of a lifetime.
Home to the Bani Yas tribe, ancestors of the current ruling family of Abu Dhabi, the fertile Liwa “crescent” stretches over 150 km, and is dotted with small villages. Mezaira’a, at the center of the crescent, is the largest settlement and if you are heading into the desert, the shops and the petrol station here will be your last chance to buy provisions and fuel, so stock up. Extra jerry cans of petrol are essentials and it’s better to take too much food and water than too little. Four our camping night we took 10 L of water that we used for drinking, washing and cooking.
An essential part of any Liwa adventure, camping in the desert is the most popular way to spend the night and can be a truly unforgettable experience.
Waking up to miles of sand rolling into the distance or the sight of the snaking silvery dunes under the moonlight is quite magical. This area provides some of the best desert views in the UAE.
You can camp just about anywhere, so take any of the roads and tracks into the desert off the main road through the oasis. Just make sure you drive far enough from roads, habitations and activity to find a peaceful spot and get settled, long before the sun goes down.
One particular good area is on the road to Moreeb Hill, passing the Liwa Resthouse.
Especially if you are staying in the Jumbo Rock campground (we haven’t seen any of the other campgrounds in Joshua Tree, but we loved this very much), this is a great sunset hike, a nice way to wrap up the day. We hiked the Lost Horse Loop in the morning (link) , went back to the campground to relax a bit and hiked these three loops right before sunset. Wise choice since being very popular and easy treks during the daytime they get quite crowded, especially with families and young kids. They are all very short (1.7 miles Skull Rock, 0.7 miles Discovery trail, 1.9 miles Split Rock) and they are all connected to each other starting right in front of the entrance of Jumbo Rocks campgroung and ending inside of it, so you don’t even need to take a car.
The first one is Skull Rock that takes the name from the famous rock in the shape of a skull ( I honestly didn’t really think it was that impressive, but judging from the number of people queuing in front of it to take a picture, I guess the world thinks otherwise ). The landscape for the three trails is actually quite the same all across, so if you are tired of the day and don’t feel like doing all the trails you can skip the last one, won’t miss anything in particular. We personally found relaxing hiking them all, took some very beautiful pictures of the Jumbo Rocks hit by the last daylight, talked a bit, enjoyed the peace. All throughout the trails there are nice explanations of animals and vegetation that are found in Joshua tree, fun facts to read on the way.
Boulders and buttresses, rugged mountains, gold mining ruins, desert plains dotted with the oddball trees—this is one weird place. Joshua Tree National Park lies at an ecological crossroads, where the high Mojave Desert meets the low Colorado Desert.
The Colorado, the western reach of the vast Sonoran Desert, thrives below 3000 feet on the park’s gently declining eastern flank, where temperatures are usually higher. Considered “low desert” compared to the loftier, wetter and more vegetated Mojave “high desert”, the Colorado seems sparse and forbidding. It begins at the park’s midsection, sweeping east across empy basins stubbled with creosote bushes. Occasionally decorated by “gardens” of flowering ocotillo and cholla cactus, it runs across arid Pinto Basin into a parched wilderness of broken rock in the Eagle and Coxcomb Mountains.
Above 3,000 feet, the Mojave section claims the park’s western half, where giant branching yuccas thrive on sandy plains studded by massive granite monoliths and rock piles. These are among the most intriguing and photogenic geological phenomena found in California’s many desert regions.
The result of this encounter of two different ecosystems is amazing desert flora, including those wacky namesake trees (actually a type of yucca). The Joshua Tree was revered by American Indian tribes because its leaves provided durable materials for baskets and footwear, while the buds and seeds made a healthy addition to their food supply.Joshua Tree’s beauty shines around the clock, with vibrant sunsets melting into nights filled with uncountable stars.
Crafted over millions of years by torrential rain, battering wind, and extreme temperatures, Joshua Tree National Park stretches over nearly 800,000 acres of rugged terrain. These landscapes, which can seem deceptively barren, are home to several ecosystems. Despite the harsh conditions, Joshua Tree teems with plant and animal life that has adapted and thrived in the area’s fierce climate. Joshua Tree National Park is home to large herds of desert bighorn sheep, black tailed jack rabbits, coyotes and kangaroo rats as well as a number of smaller mammals. Since it lies along the Pacific migratory bird flyway, many large groups of migrating birds can be spotted overhead or stopping to rest in the park during the winter months.
The park’s premier attractions, forests of giant branching yuccas known as Joshua trees, massive rock formations, fan palm oases, and seasonal gardens of cholla and ocotillo, can be enjoyed on a leisurely half-day auto tour that includes both “high” and “low” desert zones— although most of your time will be spent in your car. Scenic paved roads lead to viewpoints, all campgrounds, and trailheads. Roadside interpretive exhibits have pull-outs and parking areas, and offer insights into the region’s complex desert ecology, wildlife, and human history.
Start out by climbing up to Keys View, where you can get a great panoramic vista of Mount San Jacinto and Mount Gorgonio, with the Salton Sea stretching out in the distance. Then pay a visit to Keys Ranch, where you can take a guided walking tour to get a glimpse into what it was like to be an early 20th-century pioneer on this unforgiving terrain. Close by but standing in contrast is 49 Palm Oasis, where fan palms tower over a crystal-clear spring, and also nearby is Lost Horse Mine, one of the few mines in the area that proved to be a good investment. Today you can see what remains of the once booming operation with an easy 4-mile round-trip hike.
If you’re looking to do some rock climbing, Joshua Tree has more than 8,000 established climbing routes, from easy beginner scrambles to extreme vertical cracks, and camping options are plentiful with nine campgrounds. Or, head out on foot or horseback to set up camp nearly anywhere; there are only a few restrictions. Take a break from roughing it to check out Pioneertown, a, 1880s-style false-front Old West “town” where more than 50 films and television shows were made in the ‘40s and ‘50s; today, you can still see mock gunfights and see top-notch live music at Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace. Read on to learn more about these and more things to do at Joshua Tree National Park below.
If visiting the park by car, keep in mind that there are north (at Twentynine Palms) and south (at the intersection of Box Canyon Road and Interstate 10) entrances in addition to the most commonly used west entrance. There is also an all-inclusive (i.e. no entrance fee) shuttle bus service that makes multiple stops within the park. Avoid the biggest crowds by visiting midweek.
For a review and description of the various available hikes, click on the corresponding links on the hiking trailheads map.
During those busy spring days when the Joshua Tree National Park is swirling with tourists, backpackers and rock climbers, you may want to consider spending the day in the Black Rock Camp area. To reach it from L.A. while driving on Highway 62, do not go as far as the main Tourist Center and Park entrance; instead turn right when in Yucca Valley and follow the sighs for the Camp. You will not need to purchase a Park pass to go there.
Park your car in front of the Black Rock Visitor Center and spend some time exploring it. It is the only place in the whole Park where you can buy some memorabilia (fridge magnets, backpack patches, etc) and postcard to send home, it has a water fountain to fill your bottles, and very helpful rangers that will give you all the information you may need to explore the area.
The map that the rangers provide is unfortunately not super detailed but their explanations are clear and the trails are very well indicated. If you feel full of energy and want to fill the day with a good 15-20 km hike, we suggest going for Warren Peak and Panorama Loop trail as we did. The West Side Loop trail and the Short Loop are easier hikes.
From the Black Rock Camp follow the site camp number till you reach number 30: from there make a left pointing towards a big water tank and you will see the trail departing on your left. The first km is an easy walk, all flat and surrounded by cacti and Joshua trees. On your right you will see the trail head for the easiest West Side Loop: continue straight and the main trail for Warren Peak and Panorama Loop will open on your right after 500 m. The main trail is large and mainly flat, graveled, it traverse the Black Rock canyon and will get you used to the typical Park vegetation. It may be a bit monotonous (especially on the way beck…) but it is certainly worth what is expecting you after 5 km. Here the trail forks and on your left departs the Panorama Loop: our advise is, keep this one for later. You may want to continue on the right trail towards Warren Peak and Warren View.
The trails starts a gentle climb in between higher rocks, the vegetation becomes thicker, with bigger trees and bushes. After 5 km of this beautiful but gentle hike, assess your strengths and make a wise decision: you will find on your left the trail head for Warren View, a gentler ascension that will take you to 1500 m of heights but not to the top of the Peak. If you feel courageous and full of energy, continue to your right and start the strenuous 4.5 km climb towards the top.
The vegetation changes as you get higher, less trees and less shadow, so make the most of the sparse resting spots that you may find. Drink plenty of water and electrolytes and continue the climb at your pace.
It took us more or less 30 minutes to make it to the 1600 m top of the Peak, where only rocks welcome you to a breathtaking view that spans 360 degrees to all the Park.
Sit on top of the mountain and enjoy this well deserved panorama. To the far south the snowed peaks of the San Bernardino mountains make a nice frame to the valleys of Joshua trees and cacti.
Rest for some time, eat a granola bar or a banana and breath the fresh air. Take a lot of pictures and get ready for a steep descent. The trail is, of course, the same but much faster going down. Be very mindful of the unstable small rock under your feet and give way to people climbing up.
Once you passed the fork for the Warren View, this time on your right, you may want to pay attention to the trail for the Panorama Loop.
Still feeling energetic after the climb of the Peak? Invigorated and exhilarated by the heights? Then the Panorama Loop trail is exactly what you need to go back to base camp exhausted but happy.
Coming down from the Warren Peak, and after the right-hand trail for Warren View, you want to find the trail that departs on your right for Panorama Loop. If your sight is more acute than ours, you will be able to find the smaller trail that will allow you to make the Loop counter clock-wise; if you miss it, like we did, no big deal: continue for 3 more km and you will find the trail sharply forking to the right and see the sign for Panorama Loop.
Take this trail and you will be making the Loop clock-wise. Don’t be fooled by the easier ground at the beginning of the trail, with the plush vegetation and trees all around: the road will soon start a gradual but strenuous climb, the trees will change to small bushes and the to sparse sprouts of grass as you ascend for 1.5 km towards the top at 1600 m. Once you reach it, the trails lies on the ridge of the mountain and you will walk for 1 km with a view that spans to the underneath valleys both on your left and right.
Once the trail start descending to the side of the mountain, you will find yourself back into the plush vegetation of the lower heights. And soon you will close this 6 km Loop and find the way back to the main trail. Take a right and continue back the way you came from the Black Rock Camp, cutting the canyon and retracing your steps. As we said before, the final part an be a bit monotonous and boring, but water, food and a tent are waiting for you at the end of it!
As nice as it would be, there is no cut-and-dry packing list that will work for every person for every trip.
The best way to come up a packing list for you is to pull ideas from people you trust and adjust to fit your needs depending on your travel style and where in the world you’ll be going.
1. Travel Backpack
Let’s start with the vessel that will carry all of your gear: a backpack.
For a week of trekking in the desert we suggest a 30-40 L small minimalist backpack carry-on sized. These backpacks are typically 30-40 liters in size and don’t usually have compression straps or an internal frame as they are small enough to carry a load without them.
Carry-on size is the number one benefit – they can be taken as carry-on luggage on many airlines. No hassle of airlines losing your bag when it’s checked, plus you’re keeping all of your expensive digital equipment right there with you. Having a carry-on sized pack is also awesome for making sure you’re just bringing the essentials, nothing else. This keeps your load lighter and encourages minimalism. Environmental win for the small backpack!
There is no doubt that a number of these packs were designed by digital nomads, for digital nomads. They often offer integrated packing cubes that help you organize everything you need for a trip. A number of them have optimized their design so that it takes you the least amount of time possible to whip out your laptop for airport security checks. As a bonus, they’re usually designed with tactical openings for charging all of your tech devices. Pretty awesome stuff when you’re working on the road.
When you have a smaller load on your back it’s also a lot easier to retain your style. These bags tend to have fewer unruly straps and are more minimalistic in their designs. While some of these minimalist travel bags can look a bit boxy, there are a number of them that are really awesome looking packs.
A second downside can happen when you get the dreaded request from an airline attendant to weigh your bag. You’ve finally gotten all of your belongings snuggly fit into your new pack and you were feeling pretty excited not to have the hassle of checking that bag. But then it’s undoubtedly too heavy so you end up having to check your bag anyways and scramble to rearrange things.
The lighter you can pack, the better (for your back, for the environment, and for convenience!), but there are some justifiable reasons why some people still choose to travel with a larger variety of pack. If you’re travelling to multiple different climates and engaging in different types of activities, you often need versatility that is difficult for these smaller backpacks to facilitate. A 35 liter pack wouldn’t fit the gear you need for a trip through multiple climates (maybe just your sleeping bag!).
This 40 liter backpack comes highly recommended, especially when you’re carrying a number of high-tech devices with you. The bag has a separate laptop compartment and tons of fleece-lined pockets for every gadget you bring with you. It has the ability to morph into a briefcase-style bag by unclipping the shoulder straps and tucking them into the back slots, while still offering some slightly more technical features including load lifters and sternum straps.
The creators of Minaal are two guys from New Zealand who built a loyal following after a super successful Kickstarter campaign back in 2013. The backpack’s straps can be concealed and carried as a briefcase like the North Face Overhaul. Its laptop compartment has velcro straps to keep your laptop in place, so even if the bag is dropped, your laptop isn’t likely to suffer any damage. It’s also easy to pull out your laptop when you go through airport security. It has all of the compartments you could need and these are really well thought out. Hip pads and a shoulder strap (if you want to carry it messenger bag style) are sold as add-ons. This is a pretty small bag, so be prepared you’re not going to be able to fit those hiking boots in here.
Not feeling ready to give up on the rolling abilities of a suitcase yet? In that case, the Malmo may be the choice for you! This hybrid between a backpack and a suitcase is both adaptable and affordable.
2. We highly recommend bringing a packable day pack. It’s perfect for short day hikes and folds up small when stored.
4. Tent with guylines and repair sleeve
5. Sleeping bag
6. Sleeping pad
10. Topo map
11. LED headlamp with batteries
12. Water treatment system
13. Stove fuel and repair kit
14. Matches or lighter
15. Cookset dishes, bowls utensisl cups
16. Duct tape
In desert environment (such as Joshua Tree or Liwa Oasis) sun protection is essential. Wear loose-fitting, light-colored clothing and a wide-brimmed hat. Apply sunscreen to all exposed skin. Some trails can be overgrown, so long or convertible pants are best to avoid scratches and protect against cactus spines. Because the temperature in the desert can change as much as 40 degrees in 24 hours, you should bring plenty of layers.
17. Underwear (wicking and quick-drying)
18. T-shirt and long sleeve shirt
19. Convertible, quick drying lightweight pants
21. Insulated jacket
22. Rain jacket
26. Sandals (for relaxing in camp)
28. Water bottle
30. Lip balm
31. Toothbrush with cover and biodegradable tooth paste
32. Biodegradable soap
33. Sanitation towel
34. Hand sanitizer
36. Eyeglasses and spare contacts
38. Plastic zip-top bags
39. Insect repellent
40. First aid kit
41. Quick drying towel
43. Toilet paper
Food and Water
You have to bring all the water you’ll need for your backcountry trip. For desert environment we recommend 1–2 gallons per day, depending on the temperature and your activity level. That’s just for drinking. For hygiene and cooking, you’ll need more.
Quantity of food varies depending on activity and length of trip. Keep in mind the trade-off between the water you need to hydrate dried foods and the weight of canned and fresh foods. If you want to cook, you’ll need to pack in a stove and fuel because fires are often prohibited in the backcountry.
o Breakfast (oatmeal, granola, freeze-dried breakfast, etc.)
o Lunch (bagels, summer sausage, cheese, smoked salmon, etc.)
o Dinner (pasta, couscous, rice, freeze-dried dinner, etc.)
o Snacks (cookies, GORP, jerky, candy bars, dried fruit, etc.)
o Energy gels
o Energy bars
o Electrolyte replacement drink mix
o Extra day’s supply of food
First Aid Kit
You never want to use these items, but it’s always good to have them handy. Extra small toiletry bags are great for keeping pill bottles in one location. Pick some up at the dollar store or you could use a small packing cube.
- Antiseptic wipes (BZK-based wipes preferred; alcohol-based OK)
- Antibacterial ointment (e.g., bacitracin)
- Assorted adhesive bandages
- Gauze pads (various sizes)
- Medical adhesive tape (10 yd. roll, min. 1″ width)
- Blister treatment
- Ibuprofen / other pain-relief medication
- Insect sting / anti-itch treatment
- Antihistamine to treat allergic reactions
- Splinter (fine-point) tweezers
- Prescription medications (e.g., antibiotics)
- Sunburn relief gel or spray
- Anti-diarrheals and laxatives (a.k.a. stoppers and goers), sometimes a good idea when traveling to far and unfamiliar places
- Antacid (Tums)
- Activated charcoal pills (removes toxins to prevent food poisoning)